For one precious week earlier this month, Haneef Davis didn’t have to worry about bullets flying outside his North Philly home or becoming a sad statistic as his beloved cousin Jhalil Shands did this past April.
The rising senior at Roxborough High School got a much-needed respite from his neighborhood’s unrelenting gun violence when he arrived on a 200-acre farm in Upstate New York. Anchors Camp in Madison, N.Y., is everything that Philadelphia is not. It’s green. It’s rural. Gunshots don’t ring out every night.
Haneef, 17, played golf for the first time and enjoyed it. He rode a horse. He drove an ATV. He got introduced to plumbing, electrical installation, and investing. One night while sharing around a campfire, a counselor asked what he’d learned and Haneef responded, “I learned that it’s better to get acres than [gold] chains as far as jewelry.”
“I felt at home,” Haneef told me. “It’s comfortable there. I just liked the peace. You don’t hear no sirens. There’s nothing going on. All you hear is birds chirping.”
What a sweet change that must have been — listening to birds instead of police sirens.
I’m a big believer in sleep-away camp. As a youngster, I used to love going. Getting out of the city and being surrounded by acres of green during the summer is good for the psyche. I wish every teenager in Philly could get to leave their neighborhoods for a while and experience what Haneef and his fellow campers did.
“He has lost so many friends to gun violence,” pointed out his mother, Latasha Davis. “My plan is to get him out of Philly. ... It’s really, really bad. It is not just gun violence. It’s a war.”
Mayor Jim Kenney doesn’t want to declare a gun-violence emergency, but that’s what the city is experiencing. Homicides are up 30% compared with this time last year. More than 100 children have been shot, including two Boys Latin students who were fatally wounded last week while sitting in a car. Certain zip codes are literally under siege, with nightly gunfire. Nobody should have to live like that, least of all innocent kids.
Anchors Camp is run by Traci Carter, who knows the dangers of the streets all too well but managed against the odds to use basketball to escape them. I learned about Carter this past spring when his former team, the University of Hartford, took on Baylor during the NCAA finals. The Hawks got trounced, but I was impressed with Carter, who dedicated the game to the memory of his brother Semaj, who was killed last July in the 5000 block of Chester Avenue. He hadn’t been able to save his brother, but Carter decided to help others just like him, which is why he and a successful businessman came up with the idea of creating Anchors Camp.
After writing a column about him, I asked him to stay in touch, which he has. Recently Carter reached out to invite me to Anchors Camp’s Community Day, scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Chew Playground, 1800 Washington Ave. He’s giving away free food and water ice, featuring live music, and hoping to bring support as well as prospective campers to the program, which is free and depends on charitable donations.
Carter enjoyed watching Haneef open up and embrace the various activities at the camp.
“Him losing [Shands], I can guarantee you that that made him lose inspiration and hope,” Carter said of Haneef. “I know because that happened to me. I was in that position before losing my little brother, Semaj. Hearing that you are not alone in your struggles rejuvenates you. It helps you know that you’re not alone.”
For Haneef, spending time at Anchors Camp helped give him a fresh perspective during a particularly difficult period. Carter said, “I think it inspired him to want more for his life.”
Just as it would for other kids lucky enough to get a chance to go.